Contact: Pamela Bogdanski

Department Administrator

Chemical Engineering

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Phillip Savage | Faculty

Phillip Savage

Arthur F. Thurnau Professor Emeritus

and Professor Emeritus of Chemical Engineering

Dr. Savage is now the Walter L. Robb Family Endowed Chair
in the Department of Chemical Engineering at Penn State University

New contact information:

160 Fenske Laboratory
University Park, PA 16802-4400
Phone: (814) 867-5876



Profile Story

Many people think of algae as just the slimy, green substance that infects ponds and oceans. To Professor Phil Savage, however, algae represents something entirely different: the future of energy.

The Savage Research Group has uncovered ways to transform rapidly growing algae into a biomass alternative to petroleum-based fuels.

"With algae, every day you get more," he says. "You can build ponds to grow it in the desert; you can have floating algae ponds offshore in the ocean. It doesn’t displace land that we need to grow food."

Previously, the lab focused on organic chemical reactions in hot water and environmental chemistry. Work with algae was a natural extension, and when a grad student with a background in microbiology and algae joined the team, the investigation into its potential use as a biofuel began in earnest.

"There’s a lot of really smart, really creative people here, both faculty and students."
Phillip Savage

"Our lab’s expertise is in chemistry in water, and if you have to dry the algae or remove that water, that just adds to that cost," he notes. "I saw our lab having a good position to jump into the field given our background."

Professor Savage’s motivation comes from a desire to find better ways of harnessing energy to help society.

"We’ve got to maintain our ecosystems," he says. "At the same time, we also have to meet the needs of society. My lab does research that will enable us to continue to provide the products and goods society needs while minimizing any adverse impact on the environment."

In addition to research and teaching, Professor Savage serves as the Chemical Engineering Department’s Graduate Program Chair. New and prospective students can expect to interact with him throughout the recruiting process, as well as during their course selection at the start of their first term.

Before finding his niche in chemical engineering, like many young boys, he had youthful dreams of playing professional baseball. As a child growing up in Monaca, a small town in western Pennsylvania, he envisioned himself as a shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

"Those dreams were dashed by the age of 10," he admits with a laugh, but he still occasionally plays softball with various leagues.

In high school, his passion shifted to chemistry and math, which eventually led him to chemical engineering. He is thankful his pursuits led him to U-M.

"There’s a lot of really smart, really creative people here, both faculty and students," he says. "And it’s really cool—I get to hang out with them all day and, in some cases, teach them in the classroom."

Short Bio


University of Delaware
PhD CHE '86
MChE '83

Pennsylvania State University
BS '82


  • Editor-in-Chief  - Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., (2014 – present)
  • Associate Editor - Ind. Eng. Chem. Res., (2012-present)
  • Associate Editor - AIChE Journal, (2005-2012)
  • Director - Env. Division of AIChE, (2013 - 2015)
  • Chair sequence – IEC division of ACS, (2010-2012)
  • Chair sequence - Catalysis & Rxn Eng Div AIChE, (2006-2009)
  • Chair sequence - Green Chemistry & Engineering subdivision ACS, (2007-2009)
  • Editorial Board - J. Supercritical Fluids, (1999-present)
  • Editorial Board - Env. Prog., (2000-present)
  • Editorial Board - Energy & Fuels, (1994-1996, 2007-present
  • Advisory committee for Penn State Chem. Eng. Dept., (2000-2005)


  • Interim Chair, Department of Chemical Engineering, (2014)
  • Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, (1998-present)
  • Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, (1997-present)
  • Associate Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, (1992-1998)


  • Graduate Research Assistant, Chemical Engineering Department, University of Delaware. (June 1983-August 1986)
  • Industrial Intern - Consultant, Engineering Service Division, E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Co. (June 1982-February 1983)

Research & Teaching


Sustainable Production of Energy and Chemical Products: Green Chemistry & Green Engineering

Our reliance on petroleum for chemical products and energy is not sustainable. Also, industrial chemical processes could be made both more profitable and more environmentally friendly if they produced less waste. Our research group investigates chemical reaction systems that are important for sustainable chemical synthesis and energy production. The research is aimed at reducing the environmental impact of these vital activities. We often use high-temperature liquid water as the reaction medium, and we avoid the use of organic solvents. Replacing organic solvents now used in commercial chemical processes with high-temperature liquid water would result in “greener” processes.

Our current focus is on energy production from renewable resources. We are developing novel processes for converting biomass (e.g., algae, lignocellulosic material) into hydrogen, methane, and liquid transportation fuels. These strategies involve chemical reactions, both catalyzed and uncatalyzed, in water near or above its critical point. We also do fundamental kinetics studies and mechanistic work to build a better understanding of chemistry.

Our goals are to resolve the reaction networks, determine the kinetics for the different steps in the network, and probe the reaction mechanism. Accomplishing these goals provides the reaction engineering information needed for process design and optimization and also provides fundamental, molecular-level details about the reaction chemistry.


  • ChE 230 - Thermodynamics I
  • ChE 330 - Thermodynamics II
  • ChE 343 - Separations Processes
  • ChE 344 - Chemical Reaction Engineering
  • ChE 444 - Applied Chemical Kinetics
  • ChE 460 - Chemical Engineering Lab II
  • ChE 487 - Chemical Process Design II
  • ChE 490 - Undergraduate Research Problems
  • ChE 528 - Chemical Reaction Engineering
  • ChE 595 - Chemical Engineering Research Survey
  • ChE 628 - Industrial Catalysis
  • ChE 686 - Environmental Sustainability
  • ChE 696 - Applied Chemical Kinetics

Continuing Education Courses

"Reaction Kinetics for the Practical Engineer" (with F. G. Helfferich) AIChE Continuing Education Course, 3-day course.

"Reaction Engineering and Applied Catalysis" (with L. T. Thompson) University of Michigan Engineering Summer Course, 3-day course.

Honors & Awards


  • Giuseppe Parravano Memorial Award for Excellence in Catalysis Research, 2014
    Michigan Catalysis Society
  • Research Excellence in Sustainable Engineering Award, American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Forum for Sustainable Engineering, 2014
  • ACS Fellow - 2012
  • AIChE Fellow - 2010
  • Michigan Green Chemistry Governor’s Award – 2009
  • Catalyst Award from American Chemistry Council for excellence in chemical education, 2001


  • Rackham Distinguished Graduate Mentor Award, 2006
  • CASE Professor of the Year Nominee for U-M, 2005
  • Amoco Faculty Teaching Award, 1996


  • Education Excellence Award, 2007
  • Research Excellence Award, 1997
  • Teaching Excellence Award, 1995
  • Tau Beta Pi Outstanding Teaching Award (selected by Tau Beta Pi students), 1991
  • Class of 1938E Award, 1990

Selected Publications

    1. P. E. Savage, “Algae under pressure and in hot water” Science (2012), 338, 1039-1040.
    2. T. M. Yeh, A. Franck, J. G. Dickinson, S. Linic, L. T. Thompson, P. E. Savage, “Hydrothermal Catalytic Production of Fuels and Chemicals from Aquatic Biomass” Journal of Chemical Technology and Biotechnology”, 88 (2013) pp. 13-24.
    3. N. A. Rebacz, P. E. Savage, “Anisole Hydrolysis in High Temperature Water”  Physical Chemistry Chemical Physics 2013, 15, 3562-3569
    4. Y. Guo, S. Wang, C. M. Huelsman, P. E. Savage, “Products, Pathways, and Kinetics from Reactions of Indole under Supercritical Water Gasification Conditions” J. Supercritical Fluids 73, (2013)  pp. 161-170.
    5. Z. Li, P. E. Savage, “Feedstocks for Fuels and Chemicals from Algae: Treatment of Crude Bio-Oil over HZSM-5”  Algal Research (2013) 2, 154-163.
    6. J. L Faeth, P. J. Valdez, P. E. Savage, “Fast Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Nannochloropsis sp. to Produce Biocrude” Energy & Fuels (2013)  27, 1391-1398.
    7. R. B. Levine, A. Bollas, P. E. Savage, “Process Improvements for in situ Supercritical Transesterification of Carbonized Algal Biomass” Bioresource Technology (2013) 136, 556-564.
    8. P. J. Valdez, P. E. Savage,  “Reaction Network for the Hydrothermal Liquefaction of Nannochloropsis Sp.” Algal Research (2013)  2, 416-425.
    9. R. B. Levine, C. O. Sambolin Sierra, R. Hockstad, W. Obeid, P. G. Hatcher, P. E. Savage, “The Use of Hydrothermal Carbonization to Recycle Nutrients in Algal Biofuel Production” Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy (2013) 32, 962-975.
    10. C. M. Huelsman, P. E. Savage, “Reaction pathways and kinetic modeling for phenol gasification in supercritical water” J. Supercritical Fluids (2013) 81, 200-209.
    11. P. E. Savage, J. Hestekin, “A Perspective on Algae, the Environment, and Energy”, Environmental Progress & Sustainable Energy (2013) 32, 877-883.
    12. P. J. Valdez, M. C. Nelson, J. L. Faeth, H. Y. Wang, N. Lin, P. E. Savage, “Hydrothermal liquefaction of bacteria and yeast monocultures”  Energy & Fuels  2014, 28, 67-75.
    13. X. Bai, P. Duan, Y. Xu, A. Zhang, P. E. Savage, “Hydrothermal catalytic processing of pretreated algal oil: A catalyst screening study” Fuel (2014) 120, 141-149
    14. N. Mo, P. E. Savage, “Hydrothermal catalytic treatment of fatty acids with HZSM-5”, ACS Sustainable Chem. & Eng. (2014), 2, 88-94.
    15. Y. Guo, S. Wang, C. M. Huelsman, P. E. Savage, “Kinetic model for reactions of indole under supercritical water gasification conditions”  Chem. Eng. J. (2014) 241, 327-335.
    16. J. G. Dickinson, P. E. Savage, “Stability and Activity of Pt and Ni Catalysts for Hydrodeoxygenation in Supercritical Water” J. Molecular Catalysis (2014) in press.
    17. N. Orfield, A. Fang, P. J. Valdez, M. Nelson, P. E. Savage, X. Lin, G. A. Keoleian, “Life cycle design of an algal biorefinery featuring hydrothermal liquefaction: effect of reaction conditions and an alternative pathway including microbial regrowth”,  ACS Sust. Chem. Eng. (2014) accepted.
    18. L. Yang, Y. Li, P. E. Savage, “Hydrolytic Cleavage of C-O Linkages in Lignin Model Compounds Catalyzed by Water -Tolerant Lewis Acids”, Ind. Eng. Chem. Res.  (2014), accepted